Seeking a Preschool with Alfie Kohn Approach

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Feb 2009

I'm looking for a preschool for my almost-3-year-old girl for the fall. I have been very inspired by Alfie Kohn (Unconditional Parenting) and would love to find a place where this sort of approach is practiced: no praise/rewards and no punishment. I'd like to see a warm, nurturing environment where teachers actively empathize with the range of children's feelings and are emotionally supportive of them. I want my daughter to have a good deal of freedom of choice, and can imagine her being happy in a place with a developmental/play-based approach as well as a Montessori/Reggio Emilia or Waldorf-inspired school. Home-based would be fine and I'd be happy with a coop, though I can only consider schools that go until at least 3:00.

We live in the Lake Merritt area of Oakland, and would love a school nearby, but I'm already considering schools in Berkeley and El Cerrito, so I'm open. I'm a single mom in transition, so affordability is a factor--or at least there would need to be a generous scholarship program! We're bilingual in Spanish, so I would love to send her to a place where Spanish is spoken, but that's not my first priority.

Am I asking for the moon? Perhaps, but I've been visiting a lot of schools and have felt disappointed by the preponderance of ''good jobs,'' rigid/coercive practices and teachers who are not as gentle/respectful/empathic as I had hoped.

Thanks for any suggestions! Lisa

Take a look at Woolsey's Children School . They have a very strong emphasis on helping children develop emotional intelligence and conflict resolutions skills. Play-based, home- based, multi-age, great teachers, and flexible scheduling of 3, 4, or 5 days per week until either 3 p.m. or 5 p.m. Their enrollment applications are due Feb 28, so contact them quickly if you are interested 845-8084.

Berkeley Montessori School is it! My husband and I also had a hard time really connecting with any of the preschools that we visited last year and then, quite by chance, attended the last open house at BMS before the application was due. It felt like home...and indeed is. Our daughter has been attending for 6 months and the environment is absolutely along the 'Unconditional Parenting' lines. In fact, the school sponsored a talk by Alfie Kohn last year. Our daughter is learning spanish in class - she actually can count better in Spanish than English and does not come from a bilingual household. Also, believe there is a very strong scholarship program. Pleased Parent

I don't think you are going to find a preschool where no one says ''Good job'' but I think you should look into Montessori schools. Near you is Grand Lake Montessori , where my child goes. People are always saying ''Nice work'' and stuff like that but the Montessori method has no rewards or incentives for doing work and the children choose their own work. Grand Lake Montessori has at least one classroom with a Spanish speaking teacher. However, if you want your child to start this fall you kind of need to hurry! anon

I encourage you to check out The Renaissance School , in Oakland, next to Dimond Park. It's a Montessori school. Each of the four Primary classrooms have at least one teacher who speaks nothing but Spanish or French to the children. You can choose to have your child be in either a Spanish or French classroom. The head teacher in each classroom always speaks English. It is truly amazing to see how easily the children pick up the second language.

The school is a big fan of Alfie Kohn. When he spoke in the Bay Area last year the school encouraged parents to go hear him speak.

TRS provides a warm and nurturing environment. The children have a great deal of freedom of choice. At the same time, they are taught to respect their environment and the people around them.

To top it off, TRS has an amazing music and art program, and the most culturally diverse community of families, teachers, and staff that you can imagine. The best part is that the school doesn't seem to need to try to be diverse... it just has naturally grown that way.

Now the downside of this seemingly perfect school... it is expensive. But, the school has a financial aid program, so I encourage you to check it out. Here is a link to their website: A Very Happy TRS Parent

Take a peek at Berkeley Montessori School . It's preschool through 8th grade, and the preschool campus is separate from the elementary/middle school. My daughter is in her 4th year at BMS, she started when she was 3 and recently moved to ''the big kids' school.'' We've been nothing short of thrilled with the attention to social/emotional delvelopment and intelectual challenge. We commute from Montclair, and we're far from the only ones.

The teachers treat the children with respect and affection, without excessive praise. Our Head of School has worked with Alfie Kohn and brought him to speak in the East Bay a few years ago. BMS is also very serious about teacher education, and sends teachers every year to Harvard's Project Zero and last year sent several teachers to Reggio Emilia for a week of study. We can see the direct effect of this emphasis on professional development in the classrooms every day. It's a pretty terrific place. Call the admissions office at 665-8800 x103 to schedule a tour. Very happy BMS parent

Berkeley Montessori School sounds like a good fit for your family. The school co-sponsored a talk by Alfie Kohn last spring for parents, and the teachers are warm and practice Montessori and Reggio Emilia philosophies. Happy parent